Enigma (1982) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Two thumbs up for this cold war spy thriller.

Tuna's notes in white:

Enigma is a joint French-British production shot in France, with a story that takes place in East Germany. It is currently only available to purchase from Germany on both VHS and DVD. I saw this in the US on VHS years ago, so it might be floating around some rental stores. It is a great espionage thriller, as well as a good love story. Martin Sheen stars as Alex Holbeck, excaped East German dissident who has his own free radio broadcast in Paris to expose the evils in the East German system. He is approached by the CIA, and asked to go to East Germany and steal an Enigma decoder card. Seems the Germans are planning to kill five dissidents all over the world on Christmas morning, and the CIA needs to prevent it. Sheen is sent in to get an East German encoder.

Sheen's main contact is his old East German girlfriend (Brigitte Fossey), the daughter of an imprisoned professor. He recruits her to seduce the Russian KGB officer who was sent to catch him. Sheen is a master of disguise, and knows his way around East Germany, so he manages to stay a step ahead of the Russians and the East German police. Things get more interesting when Fossey starts to fall for the Russian. Any more would be a total spoiler.


Fossey shows everything, including full-frontal, early in the film when she is arrested and interrogated.
Not available in Region 1
The ending is a wonderful and ironic twist, and the resolution to the love story is touching. I bought into both stories, and loved the performances by the leads. The plot never quite went where I expected and kept me guessing.  
Scoop's notes in yellow:

Total spoilers

I agree with Tuna. This movie is much too good to have been so easily and completely forgotten. It has a pretty nifty little spy/counterspy plot. Martin Sheen is hired by the CIA to steal a secret encoder from the East Germans, an act which will supposedly save the lives of many dissidents living overseas. There are a few things the CIA didn't tell Sheen; just a few petty details like the fact that the job can't be done, and that they need him to fail anyway, so will undermine his efforts in every way possible!

You see, it's a cat and mouse game. The Germans have stopped using the encoder because they think the Americans already have it. They are right. The Americans do already have it. Therefore, the Americans have to convince the Germans that they don't have it so that the Germans will start using it again, thus making all of their moves known to the CIA. Is there any way to convince the Germans that the CIA doesn't already have the encoder? Sure. Hire Martin Sheen to try to steal it. After all, why would the CIA try to steal something they already have?

To make absolutely sure that Sheen does not actually succeed, the CIA also makes it seem that their own intelligence is compromised, allowing the Russians and Germans to think they have uncovered Sheen's mission through their own spy networks. Of course, the CIA planted the information in such a way that the spies would think they were uncovering the mission on their own rather than being spoon-fed a story.

Poor old Sheen comes very close to screwing up the entire plan, because he organizes the dissident underground so effectively and devises such an ingenious scheme that he comes within a hair's breadth of the impossible - actually stealing the encoder. He is foiled only by a last minute brainstorm by a young genius from Russia (Sam Neill) who is helping the Germans on the case.

The spy plot is excellent to begin with, but the story is richly layered by a love triangle between an East German woman, Sheen, and the Russian mastermind. Sheen plots to outmaneuver the mastermind by having his girlfriend sleep with the Russian. Unfortunately, the Russian finds out about the scheme, but proceeds as if he does not know about it, thus managing to get laid and plant false information at the same time! But the best thing about the story is that the cold-hearted Russian actually falls in love with the woman, even while using her and knowing he is being used by her. The love triangle sets up an excellent ending to the movie, which I won't reveal, since I've already revealed much too much. In addition to the final twist, you will also enjoy the way that the cruel Stasi officer (Derek Jacobi) meets his ultimate personal fate.

The cast is very solid. In addition to a quietly solid performance from Marty Sheen and a nuanced show-stealing turn from Sam Neill, there are more traditional and one-dimensional baddie performances offered by Jacobi, Frank Finlay, and Michael Lonsdale, three classical actors slumming as a scheming German, Russian, and American, respectively. (Lonsdale is quite a rarity - a classical actor in two languages. He is French, but speaks English better than .... well, better than just about everyone, including me.) Brigitte Fossey is also excellent as the scholarly and modest professor's daughter who has to toughen up to prostitute herself for the cause, then ends up in love with two men - one on each side.

Enigma, which is dramatically underrated at IMDb, was directed by Jeannot Swarc, who has directed mostly television shows but also found time to helm the excellent Somewhere in Time, an all-time classic chick-flick.

I guess Enigma has faded from memory because these cold war thrillers now seem so completely dated after glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall, and also because it is a slow movie without a lot of dramatic tension except for a pretty cool opening scene in Sheen's Paris apartment. On the other hand, if you love the old Robert Ludlam style of cold war thriller, where the adversaries battle with their brains rather than with fists and guns, this one is recommended.

The Critics Vote

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The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 5.5/10. It should be higher.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Excellent genre film. In terms of plot, the movie could be described as comparable to the recent Bourne movies, except that this movie is more cerebral, and has a much lower energy level than the Matt Damon thrillers.

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